Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Le Tour: Cav's got the other sprinters green with envy

11 stages in and already the annual cycling soap opera that is the Tour de France has the usual mixture of excitement and intrigue going on....

Aside from the Alberto Contador vs Lance Armstrong mind-games over who's the boss in the Astana camp, there is something of major British interest going on. Yet you wouldn't know it from the TV schedules - the nightly Tour updates are only screened on ITV4 (satellite channel).

Fade to dream sequence......

...Imagine if Le Tour was screened on a mainstream terrestrial channel at peak time, the way it once was on Channel 4, many years ago? I'm sure the sport would win a whole new set of fans, and the French tourist board would be rubbing their hands at the thought of everyone wanting to visit France, because there is no better advert for that country than Le Tour....

But back to reality. Mark Cavendish (pictured above, photo courtesy of Getty Images/BBC Sport) excited us all last year with his stage wins and he is surpassing it this year with an even better performance and not only is he back in the green jersey, he has now equalled the British record for the number of TdF stage wins - 8 in total. You get the feeling that he's not finished with the stage wins yet. Cavendish is young, confident, arrogant and talented - and for me he is very reminiscent of one of his recent sprinting predecessors, Robbie McEwen, who was no stranger to a stage win or two not so long ago ;)

This year Cav has been battling with Norway's Thor Hushovd for the green jersey: it will be a thrilling battle all the way to the last day in Paris.

Another British rider doing extremely well is Bradley Wiggins, who is now at 5th in the overall classification. He initially came through the impressive British track cycling setup and won Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008, but his transition from the track to the top 10 in Le Tour has been quite phenomenal.
Italian cyclist Rinaldo Nocentini remains in the yellow jersey although his days wearing it will probably be numbered once the riders hit the Alpine stages of the race. Contador 2nd, Armstrong 3rd and Levi Leipheimer 4th: there is no question that Astana is certainly the strongest team this year, but which of their riders will triumph? I wouldn't want him to win it again, but it would be foolish to write off Armstrong as he is in a very strong position at this stage, and as past years have shown that when it comes to mind games, Lance Armstrong is always the man in the yellow jersey.

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